By Arielle Coughlin
The first official release off of Smooch Records, Melbourne four-piece SMILE’s “Boundless Plains to Share,” is, superficially, an attractive and compulsively listenable slacker ballad. As monotone vocals chant “No direction” against the backdrop of steady percussion and a descending bass line, the listener is swept up into a 90s-rock-reminiscent melody. Its lofi sound, monotone drone, musical simplicity, and lyrical minimalism imbue the track with a sense of apathy, even laziness, which is only reinforced by the limited lyrics of the track: the only clearly annunciated lyrics proclaim, “No direction, no protection,” in the chorus, quite literally promoting a sense of directionless drifting. Other lyrics are similarly chanted, but are mumbled less clearly in another instance of muddled slacker phonaesthetics, though upon close listen emerge the words “sink or swim…going home / there is no hope / there is no hope.”
But the track goes beyond being a simple but enchanting auditory experience, sliding some forthright political commentary into an apparent ode to simplicity and apathy. “Boundless Plains to Share” is a lyric from Australia’s national anthem, one that has been referenced with irony by the detractors of Australia’s current asylum policy. Far from living up to the national anthem’s promise of “for those who’ve come across the seas / we’ve boundless plains to share,” the country’s administration has recently enforced a controversial policy of turning away boats full of asylum seekers (forcing them onto underdeveloped states such as Cambodia) or else detaining them in offshore camps where conditions, detractors charge, can be incredibly poor.
While Australia’s policies have drawn both support and criticism internationally, SMILE, for its part, certainly appears to sympathize with the plight of the refugees. In this context, their proclamations of “no protection… sink or swim… going home / there is no hope” take on a new gravity as they double to reflect the despair of asylum seekers turned away, the almost mournful echoing vocals outside the chorus now contributing to a darker sense of despair and defeatism for people facing grave or even life-threatening situations.
Listen to more SMILE on their Bandcamp.